What Is a “Price Guide Guru”?
WHAT IN TARNATION is a Price Guide Guru? Well, it’s a nickname that I received in one of the first fan letters for my first book, the 1985-1986 Rock Record Album Price Guide. That was—at least philosophically—the first of its kind: a price guide for record collectors that actually reflected the reality of the current marketplace! 1
It was the sixth edition in a line of price guides for long-playing records (LPs) from O’Sullivan Woodside Publishers. The earlier editions were titled Record Albums Price Guide and had been compiled by two other authors, both of whom had left OW.
I used “philosophically” above because the previous editions used a contrived formula based on age to assign values to old records. An album was assigned a value based on its age, not on the current supply and demand.
My books changed all of that!
With this article, I am providing some personal background information on how I got the job as the author and editor of these books. For more information on my books and price guides in general, refer to the list at the end of this article.
My first book was the Rock & Roll Record Albums Price Guide published by O’Sullivan Woodside in 1985. The cover remains my fave: a staged garage sale at the O’Sullivan’s house using my records and their family.
The grassroots of my calling
In 1985, I was living in Scottsdale and working as an engraver at a trophy shop on the other side of Phoenix. Rush-hour traffic in the ’80s was ungawdly: it took at least ninety minutes to drive the seventeen miles from home to work on the highway or the nineteen miles on the city streets.
To avoid traffic, I stopped at Grassroots Records, a used record store in Phoenix. The proprietor was Joe Lindsay, a nice guy in the best sense of that term. Aside from his store, Joe was the co-author of The Complete Beatles U.S. Record Price Guide with Perry Cox. The first edition of their book had been published by a local company, O’Sullivan Woodside.
My first two books changed the way that records were collected everywhere!
By 1985, OW had published a series of record collectors price guides by several authors. Their primary author had just quit, leaving the company with a handful of profitable copyrights but no way to make any money from them.
O’Sullivan Woodside had approached Cox and Lindsay about authoring the new editions. Perry had too much on his schedule, but Joe thought he could handle his store and the books, so he agreed.
The first edition of The Complete Beatles U.S. Record Price Guide by Perry Cox and Joe Lindsay was published by O’Sullivan Woodside in 1983. It has remained in print as a Cox title with several publishers since; it is perhaps the most trusted record collectors price guide.
And the book was all mine
Joe intended to “author” the sixth edition of the Record Album Price Guide with a team of local experts. He asked me to handle all entries for ’60s rock, soul, and pop. As that was where the bulk of the interest in LP collecting was at that time, I was offered the most important part of the book.
Of course, I accepted.
I looked forward with anticipation to the changes that I would make to the previous edition, which had been hugely disappointing.
There was a saying among record sellers about the insanely high values assigned to common LPs in the OW books: Take the book price, cut it in half, and work down from there.
I did not want the dealers saying that about my contributions to the new Lindsay edition!
Then things changed: for personal reasons, Joe could no longer be involved in the book.
Don Woodside had asked Joe if there was one person who could do the book by himself?
Joe said, “Neal Umphred.”
Don said, “See if he’s interested.”
Joe said, “Neal, do you wanna do the whole book—the ’50s, the ’60s, the ’70s, and the ’80s?”
Neal said, “Did God make little green apples and does it rain in Indianapolis in the summertime?”
Joe said, “Don Woodside wants to see you immediately!”
The only other price guide for record collectors came from House of Collectibles, who apparently had a title for every thing ever collected. The HoC book was so bad it made the O’Sullivan Woodside guides seem the work of genius. 2
I tell him what I think of his books
I sat opposite Mr. Woodside in his office as he explained that, due to a variety of “issues”—all of which centered around their erstwhile author’s personal peccadillos—the sixth edition of the Record Album Price Guide was long overdue.
OW was a small company that depended primarily on the output of two authors to bring an income that justified remaining a publisher. 3
That without at least two new price guides a year, cash-flow for OW was a problem. They needed me to step in and produce some new product as quickly as possible!
To effect that, Mr. Woodside wanted me to “update” the Record Album Price Guide. He requested that I simply take the previous edition of the book, change a few values, change a few photos, and write a new introduction. They would then have a new edition of their best-selling title to ship within a couple of months!
“Uh uh,” I responded. “No way.”
Mr. Woodside was surprised: “What do you mean?”
Just take it or leave it
I was in the control seat: OW needed me, but I didn’t need them. I had a decent job as an engraver and was reasonably happy with my work and my employers. It was one of the few job interviews that I have ever done where I had a take-it-or-leave-it attitude where the “it” was me.
I did not need this job with Mr. Woodside’s company.
I certainly wanted the job.
But I wanted it on my terms.
This gave me confidence that I rarely felt in dealing with the world-at-large. It emboldened me to tell Mr. Woodside my opinion of his books.
It was not flattering.
My second book for O’Sullivan Woodside was the Elvis Presley Record Price Guide in 1985. I was tempted to recreate the cover photo of the Rock & Roll Record Albums Price Guide (above) and substitute Elvis records. Instead, I went with this lovely cover by a local photographer who had worked previously with OW.
The books absurdly inflated values
After establishing that Mr. Woodside knew nothing about record collecting, I explained that the OW books dramatically inflated the values of common records, which were most of the records listed in the books. And those few truly rare records that the author had bothered to include were just as dramatically undervalued!
I explained that the OW books made it almost impossible to accurately assess the value of any record, common or rare!
I explained that the OW books were becoming less and less useful with each succeeding edition.
I explained that the OW books were doing an enormous disservice to the collecting community! That they were confusing sellers and buyers alike, causing collectors to continually overpay for used records and consequently overvalue their collection. 4
I got the job!
I explained that if hired, I wanted carte blanche with each title and no questioning of any decision that I made regarding content. That each book needed a thorough reworking requiring thousands and thousands of large and small changes.
Mr. Woodside really didn’t enjoy this part of the interview.
And I knew that I was not getting the job.
As I was getting up to leave, I noticed an item he had framed on the wall. It was a degree from a design school in Detroit. Wanting to leave on a chipper note, I asked, “So, you a Tigers fan?”
We then spent the next two hours talking baseball.
Mr. Woodside really enjoyed this part of the interview.
And I knew that I was getting the job.
For my taste, the standard for price guides was Robert Overstreet’s Comic Book Price Guide. Each book is packed with information and illustrations and a reader doesn’t have to know a thing about collecting comics to enjoy the book. This 1979 edition features cover art by Wally Wood in tribute to his work with EC Comics in the 1950s.
What is a “price guide guru”?
In one of the first fan letters I received at OW, the writer thanked me for finally taking the marketplace seriously. He thanked me for assigning more realistic values to both common and rare records, for which he dubbed me the “price guide guru for record collectors.” 5
I thought the moniker clever and funny, but I didn’t have an opportunity to use it with O’Sullivan Woodside. When I started contributing to Goldmine magazine, I often signed off as the Price Guide Guru.
And a few Goldmine readers started referring to me by that nickname.
But I haven’t used it for twenty years.
Until now …
This is the complete cover for Mad #121 (September 1968) with art by the inimitable Norman Mingo. While an entire issue devoted to a hip Sixties theme was probably asking too much of a hard-working staff, this issue did include the pertinent stories “Everyday Varieties Of Psychedelic Fun” and “New Protests To The Same Old Tunes.”
1 The phrase “What in tarnation?” is one of a wide variety of euphemistic expressions of surprise, bewilderment or anger that arose in 18th and 19th century America. Perhaps due to our Puritan legacy, Americans were, during this period, especially creative in devising oaths that allowed us to express strong emotions while still skirting blasphemy.
Tarnation is an interesting example of this generation of euphemisms because it’s actually two euphemisms rolled into one word. The root of tarnation is darnation, a euphemistic modification of the word “damnation,” which at that time was considered unfit for polite conversation. Darnation became “tarnation” by being associated in popular speech with tarnal, an aphetic, or clipped, form of eternal.” (Appalachian History)
2 Curiously, no one I ever talked to had ever met or spoken with the book’s authors, Randall C. Hall and Thomas C. Hudgeons III, leading many of us to believe that they were house names, manufactured by House of Collectible’s to give their dreadful books a semblance of reality.
3 Aside from the record collectors price guides, they published books by Norman Wardhaugh Walker, a pioneer in the field of natural nutrition, and essentially the “father of modern juicing.”
4 This bubble for the collector usually only popped when the collector found himself in a position where he had to sell his collection. When the local used-record store-owner made him an “insulting” offer and the collector started a sentence with “But the price guide says …” he was often shut down by the store-owner with a laugh and an explanation that nobody used those books because they were shit!
5 The primary definition of guru in Merriam-Webster is “a personal religious teacher and spiritual guide in Hinduism.” But it’s their secondary definition that applies here: “a teacher and especially intellectual guide in matters of fundamental concern.”